Conscious breathing exercises, or pranayama are an important part of yoga and they are a key part of the practice. Breath is particularly important when you are experiencing stress or anxiety. In the West, diaphragmatic breath is most commonly associated with yoga breathing techniques. However, new scientific research is beginning to shed light on other Pranayama techniques and their benefits.
Breathing consciously is a powerful act. The process of breathing sits directly at the interface of our voluntary nervous system (aspects of our physiology under our conscious control) and our autonomic nervous system (aspects generally not under conscious control). It’s a direct path for us to communicate quickly to the brain through what we experience in our body. It also offers a direct link for balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) branches of the nervous system.
Alternate Nostril breathing is an amazing breathing technique that helps keep the mind calm, happy and peaceful. It helps release accumulated tension and fatigue. It also helps clear out blocked energy channels in the body, which in turn calms the mind. It is also known as Anulom Vilom pranayama.
nadi = subtle energy channel; shodhan = cleaning, purification; pranayama = breathing technique
Nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, has a long history in Ayurvedicmedicine and yoga, where it’s thought to harmonize the two hemispheres of thebrain, resulting in a balance of the physical, mental and emotional well-being. While science is just starting to explore what might be going on in terms of hemispheric functioning during this practice, recent studies have confirmed somepretty powerful effects of this practice.
So here are ten good reasons for practicing this Alternate Nostril Pranayama:
Solstices have long been celebrated and written about. December 21 is the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and officially marks the first day of winter. You can take a scientific look at the solstice. We know that as the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year. That is because of the changing orientation of the Earth’s tilted rotation axes with respect to the Sun. When we arrive at the points of maximum tilt( marked at the equator) we get the summer and winter solstice depending on what hemisphere we are in.
The word solstice derives from the Latin word sol(sun). As we leave Autumn behind and continued on our journey into the Winter Solstice, we dive deeper into the cold and wintery months ahead. The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth and bells mingle with the chimes of the icicles. In this abounding darkness, the ultimate of yin, we travel into the world of the water element. Like the trees that have shed their leaves and stand bare against the horizon, it is in this deep dark mysterious place where we let go of the things that need to die. We do this in order to hold on to the potential for new life as it surges forward in the spring. Winter is associated with Kidneys (and Urinary Bladder) and with the water element. The Kidneys are a very important organ because they are the root of both Yin and Yang energies of the body. The water element is about courage and will. Winter darkness has a positive side to it, as we celebrate the change from autumn to winter, we recognize and honor the beauty in this season.
We can be grateful for the wisdom winter brings us, as it teaching us about the need for withdrawn: which is an essential part of renewal. Encouraging our spirits as the Earth prepares to come forth from this time into a season filled with light. Here is poem that marks the season!
Winter’s Cloak by Judy Rupp
This year I do not want the dark to leave me. I need its wrap of silent stillness, its cloak of long lasting
embrace. Too much light has pulled me away from the chamber of gestation. Let the dawns come late, let the sunsets arrive early, let the evenings extend themselves while I lean into the abyss of my being. Let me lie in the cave of my soul, for too much light blinds me, and steals the source of revelation. Let me seek solace in the empty places of winter’s passage, those vast dark nights that never fail to shelter me!
“Understanding the Range of Motion in Our Bodies”
“Our goal in life is not to become perfect; Our goal is to become whole.”
As we practice yoga, whether it be a dynamic vinyasa practice of engaging
yang tissues (muscular) or working the deeper yin tissues (fascia) we need to pay attention to what we are feeling. In Yin Yoga we are holding our poses 3 to 5 minutes, targeting connective tissues, ligaments and bones. It is important to remember that muscular yang tissue have networks of yin fascia tissues deep within the muscle.
A way of understanding this is to look at the Yin/Yang symbol. Notice how
the light is swirling in the dark and the dark is swirling in the light. Muscles
are considered yang, yet have 30% yin tissues within the muscle. The 30% which is yin is actually fascia tissue that need fluids to stay moist and flexible. Yin tissues are drier and much less elastic, especially as we age. When we hold our poses we bring moisture and nourishment to our tissues which increases the Synovial fluid (a lubricating fluid resembling the white of an egg, secreted by certain membranes to keep our joints working properly) Yin yoga helps to rebuild the synovial joints/fluids. It extends the current range of motion which help us to remain mobile and flexible. That said, we realize that it is the fascia tissue within our muscle cells that create strength. Power yoga is great for developing our strength within our muscle, yet it is the yin part of our practice that creates the length and flexibly.
Yin is specifically designed to exercise the ligaments and to regain space and
strength in the joints. There are three kinds of joints; 1. Fibrous joints,
bones held together by connective tissues 2. Cartilaginous joints, where the bones are held together by cartilage and allow slight movement and
3. Synovial joints, the space between the bones. The Synovial joint allows the greatest degree of movement. These joints can be seen as spaces between the bones where movement is possible. The limits of flexibility include stretching the tissues, compressing the tissues and shearing them which we do in all twisting poses.
As a student of yoga you are your best teacher! Ask yourself what stops me from going deeper in my pose. Experts agree that limitation on our flexibility is due to tension along the tissues which resists further elongation. Two things most experts agree on is “If tension is stopping the movement, it is felt in the direction away from the movement. If compression is stopping the movement it is felt in the direction of the movement.” The range of motion in our joints, is limited by tension. However our ROM can be increased through yoga asanas, breath and diet. When you have reach ROM in your pose, that may be as far as you can go at this point. You may be able to do another pose and go around the point of compression. Although after you have worked through all of your resistance, it is compression that stops you. In Yin our blood and lymphatic fluids are like “warm water” to our meridians. When they become clogged we can remove these deep blockages as we bend, stretch and breath. This is especially true in a Yin Yoga practice!